The Bottom Line / Global Justice

The strongest lobby in the world is the agricultural lobby. This is true in Europe, the United States - and in Israel.

The strongest lobby in the world is the agricultural lobby. This is true in Europe, the United States - and in Israel. The volume of subsidies and protections distributed by governments to farmers reaches the amazing sum of $400 billion, while total global trade in agricultural products reaches $300 billion.

Farmers the world over receive their subsidies in all sorts of forms: through prohibitions on competing imports or protective levies, grants, subsidized land and water, state-supported pension plans or exemptions from property taxes. The ways are as varied as the number of countries.

One large capitalist power that believes in free competition gives 25,000 cotton farmers an annual $3 billion subsidy, allowing them to lower their prices and thus prevent the farmers of Egypt from selling their cotton in the U.S.

For years, at all the international conferences and in every possible forum, the developing countries try to reach a decision in which the wealthy Western countries reduce their support for farmers, allowing the poorer countries to compete and export their agricultural produce to the West. A month ago, the World Trade Organization met to discuss the problem, but as always, the U.S., the European Union and Japan refused to decrease their generous subsidies, and the talks collapsed.

Up-to-date research by the World Bank determined that reduction of the support would increase revenues to the poorer countries by $200 billion annually, and raise 140 million people above the hunger line. But this data doesn't make much of an impression on Western leaders. They continue their hypocritical celebrations in every corner of the globe.

Yesterday it was in Rome. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN held a rich and festive ceremony in the presence of representatives of 150 states, for World Food Day. The ceremony even had an Israeli aspect: The singer Ahinoam ("Noa") Nini was crowned a good-will ambassador by the FAO. At tables loaded with all good things, the organizations president spoke painfully of the 840 million people starving in today's world, and Nini said she plans to help the organization in its fight against hunger. What a tasteless joke.

These are the same people, same institutions and same countries that prevent developing countries from exporting farm products to Europe, leaving them stuck deeper in the morass of poverty and hunger. So who needs World Food Day? Get rid of protections, quotas, subsidies, and actually ease conditions for the world's hungry!

But in the cynical world in which we live, some prefer ceremonies and even send a few symbolic food deliveries to those dying of starvation in Africa. It looks good on television. In practice, the poor of Pakistan, Egypt and Brazil don't interest the West the tiniest little bit.